For a brief moment on Saturday, time seemed to stand still.
Needing a big play to convert a fourth-and-18, Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez rolled out to his right and threw up a prayer toward the goal line into double coverage.
Sophomore defensive back D.J. Graham leapt up to make a play on the football and made a circus catch for the ages.
Elevating and reaching back across his body with his right arm, Graham plucked the ball out of the air with one hand, spinning as he fell to reel in the pick and give the ball back to the Sooners.
“He threw a pass up, and you know, it just happened,” Graham said after the game. “I can’t really explain it. I just tried to catch it.”
Graham’s teammates weren’t as shocked as the rest of the college football world by the spectacular interception, however.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen D.J. catch a one-handed ball like that in practice,” linebacker Nik Bonitto said after the game. “It was nothing new to us. We’re happy that D.J. made that play, it was a huge play in the game.”
Safety Pat Fields echoed Bonitto’s sentiment, saying that he’s seen Graham haul in plenty of one-handed grabs.
“It's just a crazy play and we're just used to it from D.J.,” Fields said. “He's always the guy in practice where everybody is catching the ball with two hands and D.J. jumps up and catches it with one hand. He's just always doing crazy things like that. Everybody is on the jugs (machine) and he'll catch his jugs at the end like, one hand, one hand. You know what I mean? That's D.J.”
Ironically enough, the interception may have actually worked out to be a negative for the Sooners.
Had Graham dropped the ball, the Sooners would have turned Nebraska over on downs anyway, and gained about 22 yards in field position.
Instead, OU took over in the shadow of its own end zone and played the next possession ultra-conservative. A poor punt then set the ‘Huskers up with great field position to score a touchdown on their next possession.
“I think I might have been the first coach in the history of college football to challenge a play that we got an interception on,” OU head coach Lincoln Riley said after the game. “We were watching the replay and we thought it was juggling around. I literally walked over to the official and I might have challenged it. But he said they had 100 percent confirmed it up there.
“Yeah, I was hoping it would have gone down. But what a play. Just a phenomenal play. He’s got great ball skills. We’ve seen him make catches like that in practice. It was huge. It wasn’t something we’ve never seen.”
In the heat of the moment, Graham did say he considered for a split second just trying to knock the ball down, but the height of the ball meant he would run the risk of a receiver making the play, so he just tried to finish off the catch instead.
His defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch, said he wasn’t too worried about it, as it’s hard to fight the urge to go up and get the ball in situations like that.
“From an instinct standpoint, you’re going after to the football,” Grinch said after the game. “Sometimes you can make a point in terms of, you know, bat the ball down and those things and then you can end up batting it up. Even some Hail Mary situations, we talk about guys going up and attacking the football and going to catch it so you eliminate the tip that can sometimes happen.
“It's a two-way street. I like takeaways too much to tell them to put it on the ground. But in that particular situation, a guy goes to make a play, we’re excited for him.”
Regardless of if the play ended up hurting OU in the field position battle, Graham will take plenty of confidence into conference play after making such an impressive play in one of the biggest moments of the game on Saturday.
And it’s a play Bonitto said he won’t soon forget.
“That was one of, for sure, like the craziest play I’ve ever seen,” Bonitto said.
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